Written by: Janesse Leung
You may feel isolated by depression and anxiety or fear that no one understands what you are going through. You may be wondering whether you should consider psychotherapy and perhaps feel nervous about taking this step.
You truly are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 17 million American adults suffer from depression each year. More important than the numbers, the good news from experts is that depression is a highly treatable illness. The right help and treatment can reduce the painful effects of and can lead to a full recovery.
Depression has physical and mental symptoms that impact a person’s work, relationships and long-term quality of life. If you suspect that you or a family member suffers from depression, your best choice is to seek care from a professional with training and experience in helping people recover from it.
Does therapy work for depression?
Professional care can spur positive change in the experience of the illness, based on the experiences of many people who survive and recover from depression. With the right care from a qualified and experienced therapist, a person can begin to address some of the thoughts and feelings that cause daily pain and distress that contribute to their experience.
Many people still don’t understand that depression is an illness, or they can’t relate that concept to their own experience. Friends or family may say that you, or another depressed person, just needs a vacation or vitamins.
Untreated depression can linger and get worse. Fear, isolation, and loneliness are some of the effects of depression. Supportive, kind, professional help can break through the cycle of depression, providing relief and beginning the process toward recovery.
Ways to treat depression with psychotherapy
Approaches that have been found to help treat depression include mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy. A trained therapist will guide a person toward understanding the depressive state with curiosity and without judgment, in an effort to understand and heal the source of the depression. Each model of psychotherapy offers people the opportunity to understand life problems that contribute to their depression and decide which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve.
Therapy is also a chance to identify negative or distorted thinking patterns that contribute to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that accompany depression. For example, depressed individuals may tend to generalize, that is, to think of circumstances in terms of “always” or “never.” They may also take challenging life events personally. Therapists can also help depressed individuals understand and improve patterns of interacting with other people that contribute to their depression.
Psychotherapy can help people move from feeling hopeless to seeing choices as well as gradually incorporate enjoyable, fulfilling activities back into their lives. A trained therapist can also help people identify options for the future and set realistic goals. Setting and accomplishing life goals can be a powerful way to regain a sense of control and enjoyment in life.
Having an episode of depression often means a person is at greater risk of having another episode. Skills and knowledge acquired in psychotherapy may lessen the chance of future episodes or reduce their intensity.
What about medication?
Medications prescribed by a psychiatrist or medical doctor can be helpful for reducing the symptoms of depression, particularly in cases of moderate to severe depression. Any medication will require close monitoring by a physician. A combined approach with both psychotherapy and medication seems to produce the best outcomes.
Some depressed individuals are hesitant or afraid to try medication. In this case, they may want to try psychotherapy without the use of medication, especially if their depression is not severe. With a thorough assessment, a licensed and trained mental health professional can help make recommendations for effective course of treatment for an individual’s depression.
What are the next steps with depression?
Feeling hopeless is a symptom of depression, but the way through the illness is to continue on your path to recovery despite setbacks. As with many illnesses, there are straightforward and more complex cases, and when you first seek treatment, you may not be sure which you are. Even in complex and serious cases, the right therapist and the right treatment can be a process of trial and error. Keep a diary or journal, see long-term changes and understand your progress. It may take patience, but gradually you will find yourself better able to cope with difficulties and find joy in life.
Edited by: Mayte Parada, PhD Psychology. Montreal Therapy Centre.